Deciding what path to take after finishing your PhD is not such an easy choice for some as it is for others. I was one of those people that wasn’t sure which path I was best suited for. But I made the leap to leave the lab and move into science communication. I love my new job, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the lab because at times, I do.
This week marks 6 months in my new job and to celebrate that I shared 6 reasons why I am glad I left the lab behind. But as life is all about balance, I also wanted to share some things that I miss about being in that lab environment.
So, here they are. I miss being in the lab because…
…I miss spending time looking down the microscope
Perhaps a trivial thing but I still get major FOMO seeing some of the incredibly beautiful images of cells – or as I like to call them; cellfies – that other scientists around me are creating. The beauty of all their shapes and sizes and being stained in all the different colours to create works of art is something I really, really miss. I’m lucky enough that I get to write about some world-leading research for my job and some of the images that come with that are just mind-blowing. Maybe I will have to persuade some of the researchers where I work to let me do some basic cell staining again for them.
...I miss the discovery of doing research
No one gets into science for the money. They go into science to better understand the world by contributing new knowledge to the world. When you’re working on the most specific research question, it is quite easy to think ‘what is the point?’ or ‘why am I doing it?’ because who is going to care? But science is a team game and your one tiny piece of the puzzle could help create a completely different picture and outcome. So, I miss that. I miss the problem solving and I miss being – probably – the first person in the world to know that piece of information, even if it is the most niche piece of information out there.
…I miss being sat on my own doing my work
This might sound a bit strange, but being sat in the lab concentrating on your own work with just the satisfying hum of incubators or freezers as background noise is really soothing. The peace and quiet is what I miss and something you don’t really get in an office environment. Especially a shared office environment. There is always someone popping in for a chat, or colleagues having a natter or a distraction in the corridor. The office environment is much more sociable and its great to have the right people around you should you have any questions. But when I need to concentrate and get s**t done, I miss being in a quiet lab all by myself with just my own thoughts to contend with.
…I miss the secret dance solos and sing-songs
All researchers do it! Trust me! When – you think – no one is watching in the lab, the radio is on or headphones in and you are waiting for your millionth 5 minute incubation of the day, it is very easy to get in the zone and throw some shapes and hit those high notes. It’s often the little things that brighten your day in the lab, especially when experiments aren’t working, and is something that I don’t think my office mates would appreciate now.
…I miss the teaching opportunities
So, while my undergrad, medical and masters students drove me up the wall sometimes, I loved having the responsibility to teach them to become researchers. I still get small opportunities to do this in my new job, but not every day getting to see them from the start of their research journey to the end.
…I miss having my own research to communicate
This is the big one for me. The research I get to communicate about now is seriously amazing, but it just isn’t the same when it is your own. I loved having endless thoughts and ideas about what to blog about and communicate on Instagram about my stem cell research and the day to day experiments in the lab, and I adored having opportunities to go out into different communities to share that knowledge with others. I still get to communicate research and I still get to run and go to all these events I was doing before. But I really truly miss being able to get excited about my beautifully stained image of cells, or my exciting new contribution to the scientific community to share with the world. This is the main reason why I still second guess myself daily about whether moving into science communication over research was the right thing for me. And right now, I’m not sure how I can fix this one.
Making that decision to look for scicomm jobs and no postdoc positions was a scary leap into the unknown. I had loads of experience in different aspects of comms and engagement, but nothing formally qualifying me. I didn’t really know if I would be suited to the scicomm career, whereas I knew what was in store with research. I’m still unsure as to how I progress and grow in a scicomm career, whereas the research path is pretty clear cut. It was a leap that has paid off. I love what I do, but I think the perfect career path for me is scicomm but with some research thrown in. And until academia changes so that public engagement is thought of as being a part of being an academic, like teaching is, then I don’t think that’s going to change. So, for now, I will have to continue to miss these aspects of the lab and research life that I loved.
Working in a lab isn’t all bad so I want to know what you love about doing research or working in a lab? If someone told you tomorrow you could never do it again, what would you miss most?
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